- Opposition parties assert cabinet appointments aimed at ‘consolidating loyalty’
The departure of long-serving Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen has raised questions about whether the developments are part of a typical executive reshuffle, or whether they signify genuine reform brewing within the incumbent Prosperity Party.
Though Demeke’s goodbye came as a surprise to some, others more familiar with the country’s politics were expecting the shift. Speculation on who would be successor arose immediately following the announcement, with many tipping Temesgen Tiruneh, then director of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), to assume both the Foreign Minister and Deputy PM positions.
On February 7, 2024, it was announced that Parliament was expected to approve an executive reshuffle, including the appointment of a successor to Deputy PM Demeke.
The following day, MPs endorsed the appointment of Taye Atske Selassie (Ambassador), veteran diplomat and former permanent representative to the UN, as the new Foreign Affairs Minister. Temesgen was sworn in as Deputy PM, while Mekdes Daba (MD) was selected to replace outgoing Minister of Health, Lia Tadesse (PhD).
The reshuffle also included the appointment of Redwan Hussein, security advisor to the Prime Minister, as the new head of the NISS, and Tigist Hamid, former deputy director of the Information Network Security Agency (INSA), was promoted to lead the government’s cybersecurity agency.
Reshuffle advocates perceive the changes as a routine and calculated maneuver on the part of the Prime Minister to reinvigorate the government amidst internal strife and diplomatic strains. They argue the introduction of new viewpoints can bolster the government’s capacity to tackle urgent matters effectively.
Critics assert that the reshuffling is inconsequential and does little to confront chronic challenges, suggesting internal shocks and policy failures persist despite the changes.
Veteran opposition party leader Merera Gudina, chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), regards the reshuffle as insignificant and asserts that Ethiopia’s political issues trace back to the feudal era and can only be resolved through the establishment of a new social contract.
He criticized the cabinet reshuffle as a purely political maneuver aimed at maintaining a power balance for the Prime Minister, with individuals coming and going without any substantial policy alterations.
He also pointed out the persistent issue of stagnant policies that fail to inclusively involve all sectors in the government’s administrative framework.
“What we’re witnessing is merely the empowerment of loyalists to the ruling party, without a genuine restructuring of policies,” said Merera. “These recent changes in the cabinet lineup merely shuffle individuals based on presumed qualifications and educational backgrounds. Without a new policy framework and a social contract that encompasses all, this reshuffle is akin to marching on the wrong side of history.”
Similarly, Oromo opposition figure Bete Urgessa contends that addressing the country’s political turmoil requires policy restructuring more than it does cabinet reshuffles.
Conversely, Rahel Bafe (PhD), chair of the Joint Council of Political Parties, and Girma Seifu, and Addis Ababa investment commissioner and a senior member of Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice (EZEMA), view the reshuffle as a customary practice for the ruling party as long as it retains power.
Bete wants to see the establishment of a system that enables cabinet members to operate autonomously, arguing their appointments serve no purpose otherwise. He criticized the ruling party for neglecting to construct a democratic administration that fosters stability in the country, and accused it instead of engaging in divisive tactics across regions as a form of leadership.
According to Bete, Ethiopia’s challenges are primarily political in nature and can only be effectively tackled through political means. He had this to say about the latest appointments:
“Considering his experience, Taye’s appointment sounds more appropriate,” said Bete. “Given Redwan’s background, I doubt his suitability to lead NISS due to his lack of security expertise, especially considering the internal and regional insecurity issues the country is currently facing. We believe he shouldn’t be entrusted with the position.”
“The reshuffle will not bring any change in the country because there is no new policy arrangement or any new direction given in terms of security and economy,” said Bete.
Rahel and Girma argue the cabinet reshuffling constitutes a significant responsibility of the Prime Minister, and the recent events align with that duty. However, they caution that it must be inclusive, allowing all voices to participate in discussions to reach a consensus.
Nonetheless, Girma emphasized that the appointment of Ministers to new positions “would not bring instant change” to the country’s situation, as most are affiliated with the ruling party, barring the appointment of the experienced Foreign Minister.
Rahel emphasizes the necessity of collaborative efforts from all parties for these appointments to yield results.
“The success of these appointments will ultimately depend on how effectively the newly appointed officials navigate the complex socio-political landscape of Ethiopia and foster constructive relationships with key stakeholders, both within the country and abroad,” Rahel told The Reporter.
Political figures in other parts of the country are less enthused about the reshuffle.
Kibrom Berhe is the president of the Baytona Tigray Party. He argues the appointment of new ministers is of little consequence to the people of Tigray, whom he says are currently facing a critical struggle for survival, including drought and starvation.
Kibrom observes the people of Tigray have no representation in Parliament nor in the federal government’s executive organ.
“It’s crucial for everyone to grasp the profound impact of exclusion across all spheres,” he said. “Had it been before, when Tigray had been regarded as an integral part of Ethiopia’s constituency, its people would actively engage in discussions regarding ministerial appointments and various other matters. However, given the current dire circumstances, with the people of Tigray struggling to survive famine and grappling with numerous pressing issues, participation in such discussions is understandably overshadowed.”